#FoodFriday: What’s In a Tamale?


What’s in a name? That which we call a Tamale… 

We’ve all heard of tamales before. And if you haven’t well I guess you haven’t been to the freezer section in Trader Joe’s.

But I’m not here to talk about that frozen, pop in the microwave, dinner-for-one garbage. Today, we’re going to talk about the real deal. Cream of the crop. Pick of the litter. Best of the best.

I’m talkin’

Cooked over a fire in the mountains of Costa Rica…

With cilantro, peppers, and papas from the vivero (greenhouse)…

And free-range chicken from the neighbor…

Wrapped in freshly cut leaves from platano trees…

And maiz from…well, ok it’s from the store. Whatever. It’s the good brand though.

I was a total tamale rookie when I first got to Costa Rica. I had never had one before in my life and I didn’t know anything about them really except that they were square-ish and wrapped in corn husks errr something…right?

Well to save you the embarassment and humiliation I endured at the dinner table for my complete ignorance and unfamiliarity with Costa Rican culture, Mexican tamales have cornhusks as wrapping. In Costa Rica, we use leaves from banana and platano trees.

Jeez gringa do you know anything?

OK, I got it. Now I’m a pro. I throw down tamales err week. But I still get hassled and laughed at.

Look at her. Look at her make our food. She loves it.

Gah. I can never win.

Yesterday, we made 300 tamales. It took like 7 hours.

So in honor of yesterday’s tamale marathon and my newfound love for anything maiz related I present:

The Making of the Costa Rican (<important, cause of the leaves and all) Tamale


1. First giant, dinosaur-sized leaves are cut from a banana or platano tree and smoked over an open flame to sanatize them and make them more flexible for folding.


2. The leaves are then cut into squares. Each tamale requires a large square as the base and a smaller square in the center.

My host mom tearin’ it up


3. While all that leaf business is going on, the “maza” is being made. It’s corn flour mixed with salt and consumme flavoring (chicken stock). It’s boiled over an open flame until it turns from watery to baby foody. Also during this time, rice flavored with…yes! consumme is being cooked.



4. All the other ingredients that go in the tamales need to be chopped and prepared. Usually it’s a combination of shredded chicken (pollo) flavored with consumme, green and red peppers (chile) green beans (binicas), potatoes (papas) flavored with consumme, and cilantro.


5. The leaves are then spread out and the assembly starts with a nice slab of maza followed by rice, then meat, then veggies, then cilantro.

Fran, Alis & Eugenia working hard


6. After everything has been added together, the tamale is folded up like a sweet little present. They’re then tied up into sets of 2 and called “piñas.”

“We’ll uhh help with the wrapping..just the wrapping”
Gosh they’re so cute.


7. Lastly, the “piñas” are boiled until the outside leaves begin to turn a little darker.


8. Buen Provecho! / Bon Appetite!

Photo Cred: Chef Suzuki


Now get out there and make your own!


2 thoughts on “#FoodFriday: What’s In a Tamale?

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